Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My Sandblasted Glass

Back in the 1980s, a quarter of my income was derived from sandblasting window and door designs. The current owner of the glass shown above, Katie Pemble, was kind enough to allow a photo session of my very first door. For a number of years after this door, I had steady glass work, all by word-of-mouth.

My clients were uniformly interesting people and I had my share of unusual requests — from the lady who wanted a door featuring her pet peacock, to the psychologist who wanted a window depicting the brain as a tree, to the gentleman who was enamored of Jonathan Livingston Seagull and wanted a 12-ft. mirror of seagulls — and I pleased them all. After the initial meeting, I'd usually provide a client with a tissue of four or five designs.

Kemerer Museum  |  Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

Eventually I started working with flashed glass — I was inspired by beautiful pieces like this Bohemian presentation cup that I saw on a visit to the Kemerer Museum in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Here's one of my own designs on flashed glass, a piece I call The Pointer. Below is what the same pane of glass looks like if viewed from the side:

Flashed glass is usually clear glass with another color "flashed" onto it in the glassblowing process. Using a frisket, the design is sandblasted away to reveal clear (and at that point, frosted) glass. Notice in my cross section that the orange is a little thicker on the bottom, or right-hand side. That makes the color a little deeper, and in fact The Pointer glass is a gradient of color.

Because certain colors of glass (like red) were so expensive, flashed glass was developed to save money. The flashed glass appears as rich to the eye as if it were a solid pane of color, and so the price of colored glass could be greatly reduced. Ironically, flashed glass is rare today, and more expensive than solid colored glass.

This stained glass Christmas cover for the Floridian magazine was a collaboration between Geri Willingham and I. The magazine's logo is etched out of the glass and Geri included clear marbles as bubbles. Sadly, this glass image didn't print well because the photo editors, who had lots of fancy new equipment, could not believe that natural sunlight is still the most effective way to photograph stained glass.

In a moment of great serendipity, my brother and I came across a full door of pressed glass, a detail of which is shown here. I don't know how old it is, but it's what would have been used at one time as an office door. The pattern looks like an M. C. Escher design, doesn't it?

I reconfigured the pressed glass to make a window for myself, and I incorporated flashed glass in the border. In this case, the flashed glass is blue on yellow. The interior design is a copy of a window in an Oxford College dining hall.

Each of the border's flashed glass flowers represents an aspect of my own life. The flower above is a Florida orange blossom.

Today I sandblast small pieces of glass for my own pleasure. Sandblasting glass is not without its hazards. As the sand hits the glass, it creates a dust of glass (silica) so fine that the glass can be ingested through skin pores. Needless to say, every inch of my body was always carefully covered, and I always wore goggles and a respirator. All that layering and the humid Florida weather would cause my goggles to eventually fog up, so I relied on my brother to sight where frisketed areas needed additional sandblasting. For that reason, all of my sandblasting has certainly been a collaborative effort.



  1. Beautiful work, especially "The Pointer". Although the ingestion of glass through your skin pores is a bit of a bother!

  2. I always learn something new here! That pressed glass is beautiful -so hard to find anymore!

  3. Thank you Buoni and Stefan! It was a great day when we found that piece of pressed glass. It was about 3' x 5', and when it was reconfigured, there wasn't too much left over.

  4. Wow, this is really nice stuff. Years ago, I looked into etching glass designs with acid, but never got around to trying it. I do have some frosted vinyl adhesive from Germany which I carefully cut out designs to put on the glass, and it looks surprisingly effective too. On some small panes on a door, I did fleurs-de-lis. Of course the blasted, etched, or engraved look is nicer, but part of me likes to think that down the road I can change the design if I’d like too.

    I remember some beautiful mirrors in a Louis XVI style room on the Post yacht, Sea Cloud, and they were engraved with delicate swags of flowers and ribbons at the periphery. There is something very magical and exquisite about engraved glass used architecturally.

    Because of your background in graphics, you have a good understanding of the positive/negative, and how a design such as this needs a certain clarity and boldness to be effective.

    I really like the irregular panes in the leaded window…and the little bubbles make it look particularly charming and antique. I admire your skills and creativity. Your photos are terrific too.

  5. Thank you for your kind words, Terry.

    You touched on something important to etched glass when you mentioned positive/negative. I learned early through my glass work that the sandblasted design was most effective when the positive and negative areas were very evenly balanced. That in turn made my other graphic designs (computer, pen and ink) stronger. I think that if one works in a variety of media (or collaborates with other artists), those projects all start informing each other.

    Thanks for your comments.

  6. Such a beautiful post! I love the vibrant colors of the glass, and the flashed glass is amazing. I found the photo of the pompeii wallpaper. E-mail me(my e-mail is at the top of my blog)

  7. You are a man of many talents, including intellect. Interesting post!! And I'm with Stefan - love the pressed glass!

  8. Thank you again for the Pompeii reference, Theresa!

    Quintessence, thanks! To cut glass, one scores it and then snaps the two sides, just like a communion wafer. That can get scary because the glass seems to have a mind of its own. So I had a professional stained glass artist cut the pressed glass for me, as I knew I'd waste too much of it!

  9. This is truly a labor of love, but the end result is lovely!

  10. Thank you, Paul. One thing I skipped over is that the labor of love is in great part the frisket cutting. For a while I used the same adhesive rubber frisket that cutters of grave stones use today. I found, however, that even at about 1/8", it was too thick for my detail work. I then resorted to about five layers of shelving contact paper, which was harder to cut, but much more precise.

  11. Years ago I bought a glass etching kit at a craft store to make monogramed glasses for a friend...FAIL......I love all types of glass...your work is stunning.
    Thank you for sharing it...k

  12. Hi, Kathy! Thanks for visiting. (Kathy's blog is the stylish